POSTED: May 25th 2010

JOHN GOODBODY: Tough decisions ahead as British sport faces up to brave new world of cost cuts

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative, exclusive series only from Sports Features Communications

LONDON: International powerbrokers are watching the political changes in British sport with either concern or fascination or both. With the London Olympics barely two, and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow only four, years away, there is widespread interest where future cuts in the sports budget will fall.

The Coalition Government announced on May 24 that there would have to be £88m of reductions in sports funding for this year, including £27m off  the budget of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the organisation charged with building the facilities for London 2012.

John Armitt, who chairs the ODA, believes that he can safely save this amount this year and this may well indeed be achieved from the contingency fund. However, there could be further cuts in 2011, which might ignite greater controversy.

Many countries have been envious of the money spent through the National Lottery and the Exchequer on the preparation costs by Britain but UK Sport, the body which is responsible, for distributing the money, says that its three percent cut for 2010 will not “compromise” the direct support it is giving to the elite competitors.

Some rival nations would undoubtedly have liked more savage reductions because their own governments have been less generous in giving money than that of the United Kingdom.

The Australians, in particular, have explained vociferously that the reason that the Britons have overhauled them in the Olympic medal table is because of state support. The cry goes up: "Give us the same money and we will beat the Pommies !"

However, this plea has not been answered. Now we will wait to see if British competitors suffer cuts in 2011 and even 2012.

The IOC will also have to get used to the realignment of the four-strong Olympic Board. After London got the Games in 2005, the board was split between Labour and Conservative; Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, and Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, for Labour on one side and Seb Coe,a Tory peer, and Colin Moynihan, a former Conservative Sports Minister, on the other.

Jowell jolt

However, since the election, all four board members are now Tories, with Boris Johnson having replaced Livingstone more than two years ago, and the underrated Hugh Robertson arriving as the incoming Minister for the Olympics.

Nevertheless, Tessa Jowell is a big loss. A year ago, at a World Anti-Doping Agency seminar in Oslo, one IOC member expressed his astonishment, when I explained that if Labour lost the election, she would no longer be able to have an official role with any political connotations. He remarked just how impressive and well-informed she had been in her role. I agree.

The London Games owes her a debt, which can never be fully repaid. Once she had been persuaded, early in 2003, of the viability of the bid, it was her championing of the Games that brought Tony Blair to back the bid and led directly to London getting the Games in 2005.

She has subsequently been steadfast in her support of the Olympics and her awareness of the background of decisions that have been made, as well as her understanding of the issues, are still valuable for the success of the Games. Hopefully she will be still be able to make a contribution.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · ODA · 2012 Olympic Games · London · Coe · Robertson · Moynihan · Jowell

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